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Welcome to OpenForum.  We love plays that start a good conversation and there are many ways and places to have that conversation! This is your one-stop place to join in on the discussions going on about all the shows at Forum.

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Keep the Conversation Going with these Great Organizations

Posted on June 13, 2017 in Building the Wall

Forum’s mission is to use theatre to spark dialogue and strengthen community. We were honored to be able to produce Building the Wall, and to be a part of the crucial national conversation on immigration and human rights.

As we end Season 13 and prepare to launch Season 14, we hope that you'll keep the conversation – and the activism – going. If you left Building the Wall wondering what more you could do to fight for justice, equality, and peace in our communities, we invite you to check out the following great organizations.

Ayuda

Ayuda serves immigrants in the Washington, DC region, providing legal, social, and language access services. Ayuda supports immigrants from over 104 countries who reside in the DMV.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

BAJI believes that a thriving multiracial democracy requires racial, social, and economic justice for all. BAJI was formed to bring Black voices together to advocate for equality and justice in our laws and our communities.

Center for Community Change

The CCC works to empower low-income people, particularly in communities of color, to make change that improves their communities and the public policies that affect their lives. Their work is based on the conviction that those most affected by economic and social injustice are the best equipped to identify what change is necessary, and to make it happen.

Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS)

CASS is a grassroots organization that works to empower people in the DC metropolitan area to build a community free from public harassment, particularly sexual harassment, and assault. They also provide bystander training, and two amazing CASS volunteers led a post-Wall discussion.

DC Justice for Muslims Coalition

The mission of DC Justice for Muslims Coalition (DCJMC) is to combat institutional and structural Islamophobia in the DC metro area through education, grassroots organizing, advocacy, and policy change.

Many Languages One Voice (MLOV)

MLOV fosters leadership and facilitates community-led initiatives to increase the meaningful inclusion of immigrants in the District of Columbia who do not speak English as their primary language.

Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC)

NVRDC empowers victims of all crimes to achieve survivor-defined justice through a collaborative continuum of advocacy, case management, and legal services.

Showing up for Racial Justice DC/Showing up for Racial Justice Montgomery County (SURJ)

SURJ is a national group that seeks to organize white people to dismantle white supremacy and support racial justice movements.

In DC, SURJ focuses on how they can best support and follow the leadership of black- and people of color-led organizing work, including Black Lives Matter-DC, the Stop Police Terror ProjectEmpowerDC, and ONE DC.  The Montgomery County group is newly formed and currently looking to build capacity.

Still want to learn more? Try these resources:

We invite you to share your favorite organizations with us, as well!

 

 

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Rapid Response: Theatre Takes Aim at Trump’s Politics

Posted on June 7, 2017 in Building the Wall


 
by Linda Lombardi, Building the Wall Assistant Director and Production Dramaturg

 

 

This past election season felt like none other—longer, meaner, more divisive, more bizarre. The first female nominee of a major political party faced off against the real estate mogul turned reality TV host. Every story was breaking news, Facebook newsfeeds offered outrage and alternative facts, and Twitter refreshed instantaneously with 140 characters of snark, hashtags, and accusations. And it hasn’t diminished since November.

 

Given the current political and cultural climate, the debate over theatre’s relevance has taken a turn in an interesting direction. We’re not only competing with the accessibility and affordability of TV, film, and streaming entertainment anymore. The question now is, how can theatre quickly respond to and address the issues of our day, when the issues come at us a mile a minute; and we’re used to a new play development and production process that typically lasts a year or longer?

 

One answer is offered in the quick turnaround of Robert Schenkkan’s new play Building the Wall. Written in a weeklong “white hot fury,” as described by Schenkkan, and finished exactly one month prior to the election, Building the Wall speculates a scenario two years into the future. What will America be under a Trump presidency? Where will the normalization of his extreme racist, sexist, nationalistic rhetoric lead us? How can we understand each other across such division? Have we crossed a line, and can we find our way back? Does history come down to one ordinary individual’s decision to act or not to act? The urgency of those questions fueled the play’s creation and drove Schenkkan’s process. 

 

“We are in the middle of a political crisis, the most serious threat to the Republic in my lifetime,” said Schenkkan. “I believe the situation is critical, and that it demands an immediate response.”

 

Forum Theatre—along with Fountain Theatre in LA, Curious Theatre in Denver, City Theatre in Miami, and Borderlands Theater in Tucson—is providing that immediate response as part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall. Forum Producing Artistic Director Michael Dove described the genesis of the partnership as fitting a critical need in a way no other play was able to do.

 

“This was late January, after the inauguration,” explained Dove. “We still had an open slot in our season and wanted something that was emblematic of the conversation we wanted to have under the new administration. Forum’s mission is about creating a space and curating a piece of work that gets people talking and opens up conversations inspired by the event of the play. Steven Sachs from Fountain Theatre sent me Robert’s play, and after I read it I couldn’t wait to be in a room with it. I’ve never read a new play that was written with this same immediacy and was speaking to the questions and fears and concerns I was having.”

 

That immediacy opened up the doors to a collaboration with Arena Stage and the opportunity to produce part of the run in DC, blocks from Capitol Hill and the White House. “Arena was excited to host Forum Theatre in the Kogod Cradle with this timely and meaningful production,” said Arena Stage Executive Director Edgar Dobie. “Our relationship with Robert Schenkkan and our audience’s attraction to political plays made it an ideal partnership.”

 

The opportunity to perform a piece of timely political theatre in the heart of the nation’s capital was attractive on many levels, and empowering. “DC is the center of political power in this country, but that power does not reside solely at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW,” argued Schenkkan. “For a radical ideology to become law and then public policy, there must be enormous buy-in from numerous political stakeholders within all three segments of government. Bringing the play to Washington enables me to raise my thematic concerns directly with all of those people. The greatest danger in a democracy is always a complacent citizenry.”

 

While playwrights develop the work that will replenish the American canon in the years to come, rapid-response theatre adds an alternative, supplemental model to the conversation. Part of what theatre does so well involves taking the long view, but we can and should also respond to the changing times as they are changing. As playwrights embrace a new way of creating, theatres can use this time to rethink how they program. Forum’s ability to nimbly and fluidly respond to the call from LA, Arena Stage’s partnership, and NNPN’s support created the opportunity for this play to be seen by DC audiences. Rapid-response is an exciting new producing model, offering immediate artistic reaction to current affairs while the events are fresh in our mind. After all, the power of the play is in the doing.

 

This weekend, theatre artists, producers, and administrators from across the country will gather to discuss these very issues during Theatre Communications Group’s annual conference in Portland, Oregon. Schenkkan and Dove, along with Portland Center Stage Artistic Director Chris Coleman and American Records Founder/CEO KJ Sanchez, will be featured panelists on Building the Wall: Making Theatre in a Time of Political Crisis. As part of an artistic director luncheon, the discussion will focus on Schenkkan’s play and how theatre can respond to local, national, and world events in our rapidly changing political landscape.

 

Theatre has a tradition of being a place to bear witness, embrace change, create empathy, and encourage resistance. Building the Wall addresses some of the feelings of division, suspicion, unease, and confusion many Americans are experiencing. Schenkkan’s play—and the responsive theatre that will surely follow—allows us as artists, activists, and citizens to expand the part we play in our communities and alleviate some of that anxiety. There is great hope to be found in that possibility.

 

“This is such a great chance to make good on the promise to create safe spaces for unsafe ideas, and the desire to embrace more diverse communities,” observed Dove. “If we’re not going to do that now, if we’re not going to take advantage of this time as it’s happening, then I fear we never will.” 

 
 

Linda Lombardi (@llombardi99)
Linda Lombardi is a director and dramaturg attracted to work that shifts our perspective and broadens our understanding of the world—epic stories told in intimate ways that capture the resiliency of the human spirit, the extraordinary events of an ordinary life, the poetry of everyday language. An artist and activist based in Washington, DC, she explores the intersection of dramaturgy and community engagement, and serves as a bridge between the work and the public. Linda previously served as Artistic Associate/Literary Manager at Arena Stage. Directing credits include Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II; Henry V; Perfect Arrangement (world premiere); Domestic Animals; Ajax; and The White Devil. Production dramaturgy credits include All the Way, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Disgraced, and Building the Wall. New play dramaturgy credits include String of Pearls, and The Peculiar Awakening of Riley Parker.
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A Call for Engagement

Posted on May 25, 2017 in Building the Wall

On Friday, May 19th, Forum hosted a post-performance Talk Tank discussion following Building the Wall.  The panel featured Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a board member with the ACLU of Maryland, and Jamie Stiehm, a syndicated columnist with Creators and an opinion contributor for US News & World Report. Michael Feldman (@ArtsConnectedDC), the principal of Transitions International, moderated the conversation.

Forum’s May 3rd Talk Tank conversation concluded that we as a society are struggling to find the language to communicate our shared values and common humanity.  Our May 19th discussion asked how arts, media, and advocacy groups – as well as all of us - can bridge this gap.

Building the Wall sparked a discussion of what constitutes “complicity in immoral acts,” and what it takes to destroy someone’s moral compass. Panelists and audience members grappled with the choices made by the character of Rick, a disgraced private prison supervisor, to participate in unconscionable actions. The group also agreed on the importance of giving full voice to the victimized Latinx detained persons.

Ajmel stressed that the human suffering and threats to civil liberties as depicted in the play are already taking place in the U.S., including the deaths of detainees through negligence. Both panelists suggested that watchdogs like the ACLU and the media have made progress in upholding our society’s moral standards. Ajmel noted that their role in the fight against U.S. torture and detention practices demonstrated the effectiveness and importance of advocacy groups and the media.

Audience members shared stories about struggling to find enough common ground to have productive conversations about human needs and shared dreams. In response, Jamie and Ajmel stressed the need for continued engagement with these issues in both daily life and the political process. They also underlined that everyone needs to feel heard before anyone will be able to hear and engage with other points of view.  

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Communicating Our Common Humanity

Posted on May 11, 2017 in Building the Wall

On Wednesday, May 3rd, Forum partnered with the Center for American Progress Action Fund to host a post-performance discussion of Building the Wall.

The panel featured:

Tom Jawetz, Vice President, Immigration, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum

Jen Smyers, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service

Michael Feldman, Principal, Transitions International (Moderator)

Asked about their first reactions to Building the Wall, the panelists each noted the importance of the three-dimensional portrayal of Rick, the disgraced private prison supervisor. They said grasping the point of view represented by this character remains central to understanding the current debate over immigration and other divisions in our political scene. The audience liked the way the play portrayed – without excusing - what gets in the way of people who fail to stop even the most horrific abuses.

The panel thought the play provided a creditable depiction of how creating dehumaned classes of people could lead to abhorrent violations of human rights and dignity. Panelists gave specific examples of real world human suffering happening right now because of both rhetoric and actual policies of dehumanizing and targeting immigrants and refugees. Tom cited reduced numbers of Latinx people – both American citizens and immigrants - reporting domestic abuse, as well as drops in the numbers of people accessing health care, education, social services, and seeking assistance from law enforcement.   

Audience members asked: What can we do to avoid falling into the same trap as the main character?  How can we avoid lapsing into fear and paranoia in reaction to the threats to both civil liberties and innocents, as depicted in the play? And specifically, what actions can citizens take to protect the vulnerable and strengthen those civil liberties and the rule of law?

The panelists responded that the scale and tone of the dehumanizing rhetoric around immigration requires us to dig deep and find language that communicates the most basic tenants of our shared values and common humanity. The panel noted that many faith and community leaders are struggling with how to bridge the gap in empathy. Ali and Jen stressed the importance of reaching out to other points of view, and being prepared to call out and counter dehumanizing rhetoric. Ali summarized the call for engagement by citing the National Immigration Forum’s informal motto: "meet people where they are, but don't leave them there."

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A Perfect Catalyst

Posted on April 24, 2017 in Building the Wall

 

A note from Forum Artistic Director Michael Dove on the decision to produce BUILDING THE WALL.

 

Over a year ago, as we were choosing our 2016/17 season, we could sense that the upcoming presidential election would be unlike any other. It was already a part of nearly every conversation in person, online, and in the media. We started to look for scripts that reflected the major themes and polarizing debates amongst the campaigns. Talk of a proposed Muslim ban led us to choose I Call My Brothers for our September show. The conversation about progress in women’s rights as a woman became the first major party candidate inspired the repertory production of What Every Girl Should Know and Dry Land. And then we decided to try an experiment and leave the final slot in our season undecided, allowing us to choose a play that would be responsive to what was happening in the world post-election and post-inauguration. What we didn’t anticipate was just how chaotic and unsure the nation would feel in 2017.

 

Choosing that final show was the most difficult programming decision I’ve ever faced. Reading script after script, it felt impossible to find the right story that would address the flood of information that we have had to absorb in these last few months. And then we were sent this new play by Robert Schenkkan called Building the Wall. In the tradition of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, here was a piece of speculative fiction that depicted a possible near future for the country under a Trump administration. It felt like the perfect catalyst for the difficult conversations we must face as citizens when it comes to how we secure our borders while retaining our national values and humanity. It’s a perfect fit for both our mission to spark conversation and for our season of responsive stories. It was a no-brainer.

Often, a new play will go through a development process of anywhere from 18 months to three years, but here was a playwright daring us to act with immediacy and stage the script as quickly as possible. Perhaps in these fast-moving political times, we’ll need to find new ways to create work on shorter schedules so that the plays are connected to the urgency of the present moment. As we’ve learned with our Forum (Re)Acts series of new works, the energy of a piece that directly addresses a topic still in the morning’s headlines is unlike anything else. And to create a space for our community to gather and talk about how we move forward towards a better tomorrow is absolutely a role we feel theatre can play.

We are thrilled to produce Building the Wall at Arena Stage from April 27th until May 7th, before its move back to Forum's home in Silver Spring May 18th through the 27th. To produce this work in the home of Zelda Fichandler’s beautiful regional theatre vision is a great blessing.

 
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